Tabi on Workplace Inclusion: Dear Leaders, do you have “critical unease” about your workplace culture?

| February 8, 2022

What we’ve seen the past week is a report detailing that Rio Tinto, Australia’s 2nd largest mining company is allowing “sexual harassment, bullying and racism” to permeate throughout its global operations from corporate offices to remote mine sites.

Adding fuel to the fire also is a report from another mining giant, BHP, where bullying victims say “internal complaint processes are failing them and stopping people from coming forward”.

It is these two companies today, but this is a larger societal problem.

All leaders, in large or small companies must take a critical look at reports on their Policy and Culture to understand, fully, what’s going on within their organisation including “what’s said” and “what’s not being reported”. I believe this approach can only happen when leaders take the “critical unease” posture in how they evaluate processes, people, and procedures. This is at the heart of company culture.

It is no good for any leader to claim that they “can’t believe it’s happening here” because they are ultimately responsible to foster the culture of the company. Business leaders need to ask questions such as, what is really going on in our organisation, and how can I know the truth?

As a Black woman who has worked in many professional work environments for over thirty years, also with my research in Racism and Social Inequalities, these reports were shocking to read but not surprising!!

What we often see in many companies, is their insistence on simply hiring to meet certain quota for diversity targets and settling in on some basic training like Bias or Empathy training, then believing they are now Inclusive.

Same old way of doing business

We’ve made some progress in raising awareness of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) since the recent banking Royal Commission, Global racial reckoning and ASX Corporate Governance Council elevating D&I as a requirement in policy and responsibility.

However, a recent review by McGregor-Smith in the UK, they indicated that Black Africans and other ethnic minority groups are significantly under-utilised in workplaces. Why this is the case goes beyond Diversity and Inclusion.

In Australia, the story is similar. In 2019, Diversity Council Australia researched Discrimination and Harassment in the workplace and found 28% of culturally diverse people were impacted by discrimination and exclusion.

There is significant evidence that, lack of diversity in leadership encourages poor culture and bad behaviour for businesses. But businesses with diverse and equity staffing models perform better and are more competitive.

How do companies start this Cultural change?

Firstly, let’s define what is Diversity and Inclusion.

Diversity is “what makes us as individuals” to include gender, sexuality, ableism, age, religion, race (visible) and our experiences, skills, values, and our personality which may not always be visible to others but are unique to who we are (invisible).

Inclusion on the other hand, is concerned about workplace practices and behaviours that respond to employee’s needs to ensure they are seen, valued and an integral part of the organisation.

Companies are striving to do Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) because it is in fact, listed by ASX Corporate Governance Council as a requirement for companies, but they are leaving an important element out to cultivate and maintain Inclusive Culture at work. This is Equity.

Equity is providing access and opportunity by proving what each person needs.

Lack of Equity in company’s governance when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion is the missing piece and can prove challenging for companies if the right personnel are not engaged.  It is this lack of Equity that continues to create bad behaviours in companies and yield the negative outcomes.

Not dealing specifically with Equity, is what’s likely to end up in the media before your company has any chance of addressing it, internally.

Lack of Equity, research tells us is racism at its core. Therefore, we could say that all workplace ills like bullying, homophobia, bias, harassment is attributed to racism.

By addressing workplace bad culture in any company, is to Understand Racism for what it is, what it does in systems and what you can do to mitigate it.

Understanding racism helps you to see what is wrong with your current system and why poor workplace culture perpetrates exclusion and why capable and talented people in your companies are marginalised. And finally, it empowers you with the right tools to do something strategically about it.

Research tells us that racism is responsible for all exclusionary practices in the workplace.

Racism also creates an unlevel playing field for those the system has marginalised and creates significant barriers for them to achieve a successful career.

Unless there are deliberate business interventions to address racism, Inclusion will not succeed in any workplace.

I believe businesses by their nature, have the capabilities to cultivate equal opportunity for growth, provide tangible acknowledgement of differences, and support a clear vision to level the playing field, otherwise the culture of Inclusion is just a smoke screen.

Awareness to new possibilities

When business make deliberate decisions to become aware in the way racism causes workplace ills, stunts growth, and excludes, then new possibilities will emerge.

When all the elements in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are considered you will begin to cultivate a workplace culture that is safe, evidence of belongingness and productivity.

DEI must be prioritised the same way that you have considered safety for example and must be seen as a specific business strategy that is cultivated, operationalised, implemented, and reviewed regularly.

To achieve DEI and the cultural shift needed to support your company in this rapidly changing workforce, the following must be considered: –

  • Practical steps at senior management level

Cultural change requires more than articulating your values etc… Do everything you can to understand where your company is at with regards to DEI through consultations, condor, and change. Defining what your DEI problem is for your company and have the “Critical Unease” to seek the truth.

  • Invest in all aspects of DEI

What I see with companies we work with is that they are quick to invest in leadership development and training, but often fail to see developing DEI capabilities within their workforce, yet this is the future of their business.

  • DEI is business responsibility

DEI must be embedded in organisational culture, policy, and process to the same degree as health and safety obligations. This responsibility rests with the board of directors and senior leaders of the organisation.

Now is the right time for deliberate actions to cultivate Inclusion, prevent your company from risks to its reputation, and take proactive action to reap the benefits from Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.